In recent months, all Members of the Welsh Parliament or Members of the Senedd have been attending virtual meetings via Zoom but in mid-July, I attended one of the first hybrid sessions of the Senedd. I have to say that it was quite strange being back in an almost empty Senedd chamber for the first time in four months. My office team and I have continued to be incredibly busy supporting people on individual enquires over recent months.
Now that it is the summer recess, the Senedd will only be reconvened twice in August to discuss Covid-19 related updates, so I won't be back again in Cardiff Bay until next month but I and my team will continue to work hard to support residents and businesses with any queries they may have from my offices here in Newtown and Welshpool.
One of my first duties in the Senedd was to lead a debate on the support for bus services which have been significantly affected by the pandemic. I was pleased to be able to highlight my work with Cllr Gwynfor Thomas and Cllr Peter Lewis in our attempt to look for solutions to a recent bus service that was cancelled in the Llanfyllin and Llansantffraid areas.
In our final week before the summer recess, the Leader of the Opposition and my Party Leader, Paul Davies MS, set out a wide-ranging reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet. I'm delighted that Paul has asked me to continue in my role as Shadow Minister for the Economy, Business and Infrastructure which includes shadow responsibility for Mid Wales affairs.
At the centre of the reshuffle Andrew RT Davies MS became the Shadow Minister for Health, Social Services and Sport, a critical portfolio at any time but especially as we navigate our way through a major health crisis. By appointing Andrew to take on the Health portfolio, we will have someone who, as a former Leader of the Welsh Conservative Party, wasn't afraid to challenge the Welsh Government on its record. His appointment will ensure that there is robust scrutiny of the Welsh Government in one of the most important departments of Government.
As always, I hope that you find this month's e-newsletter useful and if you have any comments or issues you would like to raise, please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone by calling 01686 610887.
Russell George MS
Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire
Coronavirus Update - Health
In the fight against Covid-19, I've welcomed the UK Government's historical levels of financial support which it has provided to the Welsh Government and also directly to the people of Wales.
The UK Government has recently provided a further £1.1 billion in additional funding to the Welsh Government. The additional funding to address areas associated with the pandemic takes the total to at least £4 billion for this year. It is my role to scrutinise how the Welsh Government spends this funding, to ensure people, businesses, the NHS and all of our public services in Wales get the support they need to recover from the pandemic.
It is welcome news that the Chief Medical Officer for Wales has announced that if Coronavirus levels continue to decline, then those shielding will be able to venture out, go shopping and return to work from 16th August. This will be welcome news for the many thousands of people in Wales who have been under the strictest lockdown restrictions, cut off from family, friends, work, school and any sense of a normal life.
However, with this welcome news comes the disappointing news that more than two-thirds of test results from community testing units (CTUs) in Wales have taken longer than 24 hours to be returned. This virus moves so fast that in 24 hours, one person could have met many people. This is potentially a problem regardless of who you are, but if you’re a nurse or healthcare worker, then you could be meeting an awful lot of people who are ill or otherwise vulnerable. The whole testing system in Wales needs to improve now so that Wales can be better prepared for the pressures of Autumn and Winter.
In Powys, according to the data from the Office of National Statistics, sadly one Powys resident has died over the past 3 weeks. Whilst we think of the sad news that one family has received, it is of course welcome that there have been no further deaths.
I have kept in conversation with Powys Teaching Health Board with regards to the Leighton Arches travellers site in Welshpool where a number of Covid-19 cases had been confirmed. I am pleased that the local health board have confirmed they have offered all the support needed to get shopping etc for those who are self-isolating. I understand that the local Police and other authorities are regularly on the site. Following the number of confirmed cases in Welshpool last month, thankfully, no further significant rise in cases has been reported.
Coronavirus Update - Economy
Turning to the re-opening of the economy, it is my view that the Welsh Government failed to provide adequate clarity over days and dates to re-open at an earlier stage, and a more dynamic approach with clear milestones is of crucial importance to different sectors of the economy as lockdown is eased. For example, the Welsh Government should have been more proactive in supporting the tourism sector and allowed indoor hospitality in pubs and restaurants in a bid to support the Welsh tourist industry. Indoor hospitality has re-opened today (Monday 3rd August).
The UK Government's Eat Out to Help Out Scheme started today. Diners who eat-in will benefit from a 50% discount, up to a maximum of £10 per person, on food and non-alcoholic drinks, any Monday to Wednesday in August 2020 – and no voucher is required. You can take advantage of the offer as many times as you like during the month. You can find a list of many restaurants, cafes and pubs that are registered across Montgomeryshire here.
Cinemas, museums and beauty salons were also able to reopen from last Monday, as Wales’ coronavirus restrictions continue to be relaxed. Tourist accommodation with shared facilities, such as camping sites and all hotels were able to re-open from last Saturday.
It is also my view that there is a need to support businesses for the medium and long-term to ensure businesses’ sustainability and to protect livelihoods.
Coronavirus - Useful Links & Frequently Asked Questions
Advice from Powys County Council is available here.
Information and Support for the Third Sector is available from the Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO) here.
The Business Wales website is a good point of reference, which is updated regularly for those who want advice about business support.
The symptoms of Coronavirus are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss of smell or taste. To view more advice on what to do if you think you have symptoms, please click here.
Public Health Wales provides a daily update about the number of cases of coronavirus in Wales. It is available here.
If you can help the effort to produce PPE in Wales please click here.
Want to know when and where to wear a face mask? Please click here.
At Dolfor Show last year (before the Covid-19 pandemic)
It has been disappointing that our summer shows across Powys have been affected by the pandemic. Last week, I would have been at The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show (RWAS) in Llanelwedd but this year, the RWAS has been holding virtual events with both farming unions which I have joined, one of which focused on agriculture and rural matters, Welsh produce and the environment sponsored by the NFU and one which was co-hosted by the communications regulator, Ofcom and the Farmers' Union of Wales on digital connectivity in rural Wales.
This last weekend, I would have normally attended the Dolfor and Trefeglwys shows, and this weekend coming, the Llanfyllin Show and I’m aware that Llanfyllin show has organised a number of virtual events.
It will be important that the Welsh Government supports show organisers financially, and this is an issue which I have taken up with the Minister for Rural Affairs.
New Emergency Service in Shrewsbury
It is reassuring that despite the timetable being affected by Covid-19, there is still the firm commitment for building works to commence at the Shrewsbury site for a new emergency hospital.
As I have reported previously, the decision by the UK Government to approve plans to build a new emergency (A&E) service in Shrewsbury was welcome and comes after years of debate and campaigning over Shropshire's hospital services.
£300 million will be invested in world class critical and emergency care in Shrewsbury. This will be positive for us in Mid Wales as not only will we see life-saving emergency healthcare located in Shrewsbury, a more significant service than a standard A&E with the large investment that comes with it, but we will also see the return of the women and children’s consultant-led inpatient service to Shrewsbury.
It is also essential that some planned care is delivered locally in our local community hospitals, to prevent the need to travel out of county to see a consultant.
Going forward, I will be keen to understand how the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust will work in partnership with Powys Teaching Health Board to achieve this going forward.
Nevertheless, this decision is a milestone which marks the point where the Shrewsbury & Telford Hospitals Trust has begun to confront its challenges and makes the necessary reforms which will allow it to attract top class consultants and clinicians. It is reassuring that despite the timetable being affected by Covid-19, there is still the firm commitment for building works to commence at the Shrewsbury site.
Support for Laura Ashley staff
The job losses at Laura Ashley, an iconic and major employer in the Newtown area – would have been headline news if it weren’t for the current pandemic. It was devastating news that retail and manufacturing operations will cease. This news couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Since my last update, Craig Williams MP, Newtown Mayor, Cllr. David Selby, and I have met virtually with Welsh Government and Powys County Council officials as we seek reassurance and support for the many people who have been affected.
Along will Craig Williams MP, over the past couple of weeks I've had a number of further meetings with former Laura Ashley staff and others, in a bid to retain an operation in Newtown.
Anyone that has been made redundant can contact the Department of Work & Pensions if they have any questions on email@example.com The ReAct Service – operated by Careers Wales, can provide a package of support in gaining new skills and improves chances of returning to work. These include £1500 towards vocational training and up to £3000 to wage costs. People can telephone 0800 028 4844 or find more info at careerswales.gov.wales
For people to check if their pension is affected by insolvency, they should visit www.pensionprotectionfund.co.uk and for independent advice on pensions, people can visit www.pensionadvisoryservice.org.uk
I've recently had my first post-lockdown trim at a barbers, after visiting Llanidloes Barbers to mark its reopening.
In so doing, I sent my best wishes to the team - Matt, Trudy and Sandra, and would like to encourage all residents to support local small businesses as we emerge from the Coronavirus lockdown.
Matt first cut my hair some years back when I visited for Small Business Saturday, and I was pleased to return. I wish them well as they re-open to the public again. It is important to support the local economy at the best of times but after such a difficult time for small businesses as a result of this unprecedented health pandemic, I think it will be important that we support the livelihoods of local people across Montgomeryshire as we return to some kind of normality.
During the summer, I normally enjoy engaging with people about local issues at the summer shows and in the communities which make up Montgomeryshire. This year, this will be somewhat limited by social distancing rules so I am happy to have telephone conversations with residents so please do contact my office to arrange a call back if you want to discuss any matter. You can contact me by calling 01686 610887 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org